You might think that the humble postcard is just a piece of printed cardboard but just read John Jakle's fascinating book and discover there is a lot more behind these colorful images. The eighty-two cards in the book, dated from 1900 to 1977, show a selective view of cities at night, as Jakle explains (in a very comprehensive introduction) the card publishers, at least in the early years of the last century, were quite happy to add a row of street lights if none existed and city fathers frequently felt pressure to then put them up.
Before the introduction of fast film most night-time postcards were day-time photographs and illustrations with a black sky added or maybe a moon with a cloudy sky painted in and street lights made to glow, some of these do look rather crude though. New film and cameras in the thirties allowed postcard photographers to be more creative, with strobe effects for instance and the old favorite, the time-lapse.
Though most cards from the thirties onwards are photographs many were still heavily retouched to give even more sparkle to the image, page 107 shows a looking down view of San Francisco with searchlights in the background and streets of the city just dazzling with light, it was taken in 1940. A slightly different view is of Capitol Street, Jackson, Mississippi in 1955 (page 67) here the street lights are strangely dim but the sidewalks are aglow with light from shop windows and plenty of neon, a positive reflection of the city as modern and progressive or as the author says 'Postcard views were expected to celebrate cities and do so in ways that would preserve, if not strengthen, the social status quo'.
The production and design of the book is first-class, landscape in format, to compliment the typical postcard shape, each card has a page to itself with a long caption. The back of the book has an appendix about collecting these interesting postcards and a bibliography.
Another book (also beautifully produced) of city postcards that I have enjoyed is 'American Architecture: a vintage postcard collection' by Luc Van Malderen (ISBN 1864700785) which has 625 mainly illustrative images and includes several night-time views. Both books will interest anyone who wants to learn more about how cities were presented to the public.
***FOR AN INSIDE LOOK click 'customer images' under the cover.